Midday Scan: Shooting owls to save owls; twisting the marriage ballot wording; rare win on open records

The barred owl is in the crosshairs. The stark wording on the ballot title for a same-sex marriage vote draws critical attention. And the national press is discovering the surprising fact that Washington might actually elect a Republican governor.

Crosscut archive image.

Northern Spotted Owl

The barred owl is in the crosshairs. The stark wording on the ballot title for a same-sex marriage vote draws critical attention. And the national press is discovering the surprising fact that Washington might actually elect a Republican governor.

To rephrase Spock, the needs of the endangered outweigh the needs of the few. Consider the saga of the barred owl, an aggressive "East Coast bird" that is walloping the iconic spotted owl. Much to the dismay of these East Coast transplants, no one plans to mimic Rachel Carson and author Silent Barred Owl or a feathered version of Darkness at Noon.

"To save the imperiled spotted owl, the Obama administration is moving forward with a controversial plan to shoot barred owls, a rival bird that has shoved its smaller cousin aside," the AP reports in a story carried by The Seattle Times. "The plan is the latest federal attempt to protect the northern spotted owl, the passive, 1-pound bird that sparked an epic battle over logging in the Pacific Northwest two decades ago."

As writers Matthew Daly and Jeff Barnard note, killing one critter to preserve another is not unprecedented. Consider, for example, the authorized shooting of California sea lions to save Columbia River salmon. The most controversial feature of the plan could be the green light for additional logging to curtail the chances of major fires (read: Douglas firs won't be feeling the love either.)   

Language matters, especially in politics. Voters embrace themes of liberty and equality but push back against phrases such as "special rights." On the question of same-sex marriage, ballot language could be determinitative (particularly in a close election won at the margins). That's why an emotion-laden pairing of "redefine" and "marriage" is being challenged in Thurston County Superior Court. When someone redefines marriage, e.g., Newt Gingrich asking Wife Number Two for an "open marriage," it doesn't exactly kindle goodwill.  

"Ballot title and summary language is often the principal — or only — source of information read by citizens before they vote. Serial initiative sponsor Tim Eyman has, for years, received sympathetic ballot titles from the Attorney General’s office," the Seattlepi.com's Joel Connelly writes. "A ballot title should, 'to the extent reasonably possible, not create prejudice either for or against the measure,' argued Anne Levinson, former judge, co-owner of the Seattle Storm and supporter of same-sex marriage." The Levinson standard should be an axiom, and "redefine" nixed from the ballot.  

Advocates for increased access to public records are often forced to tangle with heel-dragging bureaucrats. The challenge grows even more complicated when attempting to daylight the names of disciplined police officers and the attendant fallout from the officers' guild. That may have just changed. 

"Overturning an arbitrator, a King County judge Tuesday ruled that the names of Seattle police officers disciplined for misconduct may be released under public-disclosure requests," the Seattle Times' Steve Miletich writes. "At issue was whether the names must be disclosed under the Public Records Act or kept confidential under the city's collective-bargaining agreement with the Seattle Police Officers' Guild (SPOG)."  

The judge's decision is a victory for public-disclosure advocates. Will it also drain police morale or ideally discourage bad behavior? 

Rob McKenna is a rara avis, an electable Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. It's an intriguing narrative that's drawing the attention of national media. The question is whether McKenna, like then-rising star Barack Obama in 2004, will play a prominent role in his party's national convention. If so, will his convention address (and happy pics with Rick Santorum and others) become a political liability in the fall?    

"It's not often that national Republicans salivate over their prospects in a solidly Democratic state where a GOP candidate hasn't been elected governor in 32 years and President Obama is expected to cruise to victory," the National Journal's Sean Sullivan writes. "But that's what's happening in Washington state, where GOP Attorney General Rob McKenna, who is off to a strong start to his campaign, is trying to do what many have tried and failed. The gubernatorial candidate faces several significant hurdles, not the least of which is the barrage of Democratic attacks he'll face, which so far, have been centered on portraying him as a partisan who is rightward of the state's electorate."  

Lastly, the Seattle Times features a must-read on the Border Patrol. It seems the line between security and human rights grows blurred at times.   

"Human-and immigrant-rights groups in 13 northern border states are asking Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to enact policies to stem what they say is a growing number of cases of harassment and abuse by U.S. Border Patrol officers of people living in communities along the border," the Seattle Times Lornet Turnbull writes. "In a letter, the Northern Border Coalition relates what it says are a series of such incidents by Border Patrol officers in cities in Washington, New York and Michigan — some taking place in church and school parking lots." Even when the abuses aren't the issue, some communities feel that day-to-day life is changing for the worse under Border Patrol pressure, something Crosscut's Anthony B. Robinson reported on last year from Whatcom County.  

Link Summary

Seattle Times, "Obama plan for spotted owl targets its rival, the barred owl"

Seattlepi.com, "Biased ballot title on same-sex marriage?" 

Seattle Times, "Judge allows release of disciplined Seattle police officers' names"

National Journal, "Rob McKenna tries to end three decade GOP losing streak"

Seattle Times, "Border patrol overteps its bounds, coalition says"


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson is the former editorial-page editor of the Everett Herald. Follow him on Twitter @phardinjackson